Friday, December 21, 2012

re-framing touchy-feely

Last week I wrote about my team, The Provost's Council, having been through a retreat and beginning the task of building ourselves as a team...and the risks involved in becoming a strong team.  Part 2 of that retreat happened this past Wednesday when we shared with each other behaviors everyone did to improve the team's performance and behaviors everyone did to derail the team's performance.  It was not an easy exercise...but seemed to be incredibly beneficial to the team.  I was sharing this exercise with someone and they made the comment that the team on which they serve aren't into those type of "touch-feely" exercises.  I immediately felt a little bit defensive and asked the question, "What other term could we use rather than touchy-feely?"  Similar to the idea of "soft skills," touchy-feely has an incredibly negative connotation and many people (and teams) would see anything consisting of touchy-feely as a waste of time.  The exercise we as a team went through this past Wednesday was nothing close to a waste of time...nor was it easy and soft...nor was it something one does when they have nothing else to do...and it was certainly not (at least in the accepted sense of the term) touchy-feely.  It took took hard took took humility...and it took strength and will.  I don't think any of those terms are (or should be) associated with touchy-feely.

So how might we re-frame the phrase "touch-feely when exercises or events we do as a team?  Here are some random thoughts off the top of my head:

  • team building
  • encouragement
  • strength building
  • bonding
  • soul searching
  • exposing the dark side
  • persona completing
  • relationship strengthening
  • leadership capacity
  • self awareness
  • building team awareness
The next time I hear someone say to me that they do not like to or need to engage in touch-feely exercises in their team, my arsenal of replies will include:
  • "so you don't want to use all of the tools available to your team to make it better?"
  • "so optimum team performance is not important to you?"
  • "so everyone on the team is fully developed as a leader?"
  • "so the team is self-aware enough to monitor when it makes good and bad decisions?"
  • "so you would rather have a team that is less encouraging of one another than it can be?"
  • "so you don't want to build the leadership capacity of the team?"
  • "so you believe that everyone on the team is always making decisions from the purest motives possible?"
  • "so don't you want your team to be better tomorrow than it is today?"
If you have the need to keep using the term touchy-feely, I suppose that's okay.  Just be sure to say it in such a way that it exudes a positive connotation for team building...which leads to a better functioning team...which leads to a team getting more accomplished...which leads to a fuller living out of the organization's mission...which leads to healthier communities and a better world.  I don't know about you, but if The Provost's Council begins to function at the level we all believe it can as a result of the exercises we have been going through, then I'm all for touchy-feely...whatever that might mean!

Friday, December 14, 2012

the risk of team

Last Friday, the team of which I am a member (officially entitled The Provost's Council) went on a retreat to build ourselves as a team.  We brought on Jim Blanchard of Strategic Positioning to function as a facilitator and used The Birkman Profile as a tool as well as concepts and ideas from Patrick Lencioni's newest book The Advantage. Special thanks and a shout-out to our teammate Tammy Stewart for allowing us to gather at her family's cabin on Lake Travis.  For many people, this type of setting and exercise is a bore and a dread.  Having to get all "soft and fuzzy" drives some individuals crazy.  I happen to like the setting once it gets going - but there is always some fear and trepidation in me as I am driving to the event...mostly because I never quite know where it is going to go.  You see, there's always that moment in these settings when each person has to decide whether or not to TAKE THE RISK to either tell about themselves or comment on someone else.  So the question we have to ask - and answer - is whether or not it is worth the risk to build the team...and then whether or not building the team is worth the risk.

A couple of reasons on why its RISKY to work on the aspect of building a team:

  • you have to be vulnerable
  • you have to allow others to be vulnerable
  • you have to hold yourself accountable
  • you have to hold your teammates accountable
  • you have to hold your boss accountable (assuming he or she is a member of the team)
  • you have to listen to other's comments about what you add to the team
  • you have to listen to other's comments about how you distract from the team
  • you have to tell others what they add to the team
  • you have to tell others how they distract from the team
  • you have to be willing to take the fall as a team
  • you have to put on your team hat and remove your position hat
You will notice that the above list has a lot of "you have to" in it...I am never a fan of being told I have to do something, so my caveat here is that I suppose you can choose not to do these things - and there is a RISK associated with that decision as well.  It will be interesting watching whether or not everyone on The Provost's Council chooses to engage in the "have to's" or not over time.  My belief is that the more everyone on the team engages in these behaviors, the faster the team will function better...and a better functioning the team, the more that gets accomplished...and the more that gets accomplished, the better the mission is served...and the better the mission is served, the more healthy our communities are.  At the end of the day, if I believe in the mission of my institution, the more I have to take the responsibility to engage in behaviors that will lead to a stronger and more fully functioning team.  I'm ready to take the risk...are you?

Friday, December 7, 2012

what don't you know about yourself?

Yesterday in class I gave my students the opportunity to assess the course - what they learned, how the different tools impacted their learning, and what they most liked/disliked about the course as a whole.  The final question I always ask on these course evaluations is "What should the instructor know about himself that he might not know?"  This always gives me a chance to talk about the Johari Window and help students better understand the need for reflection and feedback.  While most students are very kind, there are always a few students that point out things that give me pause to think and reflect on what I do, whether it be how I conduct myself in class, how my clothes look on me ("your tie always shifts to the left") or how I am perceived by different types of students.
For me, this is an important question from which I can learn - and an important question from which my students can also learn.  Having to reflect on the an aspect of someone else's life that may not be known to them - and then having to write that down - helps one critically look at and think about their own life.  My students have to decide whether or not what they see in my (especially that which is hidden from me) is of value enough to them to put on paper and let me know.  They are questioning their own values and beliefs and then putting words to them in a way that I will need to understand (I have to remember that a lot of what the answers to this question tell me is as much about the student as it is about me). I also believe that through having to think about and answer this question my students learn  how to ask for and accept feedback.

Now comes the hard part - am I willing to listen to and accept what my students tell me about myself that I might not yet know?  Two examples of what I am wrestling with based on yesterday's feedback:

  1. Over the past several semesters, more and more students keep telling me that I do not recognize the amount of influence and impact I have on students (I think they mean that in a positive sense) - and truthfully, I don't recognize that impact...I do what I do in a passionate manner because that's who I am. That being said, when one knows they have that type of influence, how will they use it?  My current definition of leadership includes the phrase "stewarding the power given to one to influence others towards a goal that impacts the common good."  I am wrestling with how to best use that influence to make an even bigger impact on those who study and learn with me.
  2. I ask a lot of questions in my classes, probing deeply with students to get at the heart of an answer.  I will often put students on the spot, sometimes having them stand to share their answers; I believe this is good practice in getting them comfortable speaking in front of a group.  I always get feedback from a few students (this semester was no exception) that my technique of asking questions embarrasses some students and makes them afraid.  I really wrestle with this, wanting to create a safe classroom for all and working to move students to the next level of their thinking and building their competency of speaking in public.
All that being said, here is what I would say to all leaders:
  • provide opportunity for those around you to give you feedback on those areas in which you might not know about yourself - you will learn and they will feel heard
  • be courageous enough to hear that feedback and consider what might need to be changed (remember that what you are hearing is also them telling you about them)
  • let others know what you heard and how you have changed as a result of their feedback (I always start every new course by going over feedback from the previous class)
  • encourage your team to do this with each other by giving them a venue and a tool in which to do so
  • embrace the opportunity for feedback - when people come to me and tell me something they appreciate about me, I will often ask them WHY they appreciate that - it gives me a chance to learn more about myself and about that person
  • tell your best people that you NEED them to give you honest feedback on a regular basis, especially on those items of which you are not aware
That's all for today...we head into finals next week so everyone is busy writing finals, studying for finals, and then grading finals.  So you may or may not hear from me over the next few weeks, but I will be looking at the world through leadership lenses, hoping to find more and more ways to THINK ABOUT LEADERSHIP for 2013...

Friday, November 30, 2012

are you prepared for losing your job?

This past Monday I had the privilege to address a group of close to 100 people at the Austin Job Seekers Network, a ministry of Hill Country Bible Church.  Led by former Dell executive Craig Foster, this group of men and women meet every Monday hearing from inspirational speakers and learning skills to employ in their search for the next position.  Being in between jobs - at any age - cannot be any easy thing.  I have a new appreciation - and a profound respect - for these people who wake up every morning wondering if "today will be the day."
One of the things that stayed gnawing at my brain through the rest of the day was how I spend my time - day in and day out - thinking of ways to better prepare my students for their careers and callings, whether it be their first job out of college or to improve their standing in their current positions; and how I probably never think about what I need to do for my students to prepare them for when they lose their job.  As I pondered this issue, I came up with a list of things I would teach in a new course entitled, "Getting Ready for Unemployment" (not sure it would be a highly enrolled course).  Here are my ideas, that I am sure all of us can use...just in case:

  • start building your network NOW, and keep it fresh - remember its just now who you know, but really who knows you. Get in front of the right people; start meeting with people today;  and don't lose touch with some of the more important people in your Rolodex
  • learn to use social networking - I have seen more and more people using LinkedIn and Twitter to make connections and find positions. Find your sweet spot in the massive world of social networking and start using it on a regular basis
  • get comfortable talking with people - that first interview is critical if you want to be considered for a call back.  Practice, practice, practice this does not necessarily come easily
  • start saving today - having a backup of cash will allow you to not panic in the search process and help everyone on your family be a little more relaxed
  • develop resiliency - the road to finding another job can be long and hard.  Being patient; being able to deal with rejection; and staying the course are all a part of the job search
  • learn how to ask for help - for those of us who have been successful in life, this can be very difficult.  The cult of the "self-made person" permeates our culture and keeps us from being the best we can be.  Start NOW asking for help so when you are a little more in need, it is not so difficult to do so
  • believe in the power of hope - this is not an "I wish it would happen" hope but a powerful hope that believes in the possibilities of the future.  For me, that hope lays in my faith and the understanding that there is a God who loves and cares for me.  Hope gets people through really hard times
  • become comfortable with the human condition - instead of blaming yourself or others for tough times, understand that "life happens" and no one in particular has it out for you.  It's not karma; it's not something you did or didn't do; it's not that God has it out for you...sometimes life happens to you and to me - and we have to live through it.
  • build a killer resume - find a great resume writer, build a powerful document that highlights everything great about you, and then keep it up to date.
I learned a lot by being with this great group of people, but by far the greatest lesson I took away from my time a the Job Seekers Network was that when people in need come together around a common purpose, great things can happen.  Watching them support one another...watching them cheer one another on...watching them struggle together...and watching them just BE together gave me hope - hope for each of them, hope for myself, and hope that this community knows how to care for its people.

Friday, November 16, 2012

questions, questions, questions...

This past week I asked our freshmen Life & Leadership classes (required of all freshmen) to develop a list of 2-3 questions about leadership that would be used for an end of semester presentation for them on leadership.  The mission of Concordia University Texas is that we are developing Christian leaders, a mission we take seriously in many ways.  The essence of this blog is to share some of these questions with the reader in an attempt to allow us/you to consider the mind of the 18 year old as they think about leadership.  For me, many of these questions raise even more questions, which I believe may be the best way to think about leadership.  There are seldom answers (at least definitive answers) to many of these questions, and it in the wrestling with these questions that I believe leadership can be developed.  So enjoy the list - feel free to comment on them below - share them with your leadership team - and reflect on them yourself as you have time.

  •  How do you define leadership?
  •   How honest can a leader be with their mentees/followers?
  •  What is the most important characteristic of a leader?
  •   How do you handle the emotional demands that leadership puts on you?
  •   Who do you reach out to for advice, or where does your mentoring come from?
  •   What distinguishes a good leader from a great leader?
  •   Who has been the greatest influence on your style of leadership?  Why?
  • How does someone as young as all of us have the right to be a leader? We are still young, and do stupid things.
  •     Is everyone cut out to be a leader? Or are some people just born with the traits for being a leader?
  •     How do you develop the confidence you need to be a leader?
  •     Through being a leader, have you ever changed someone else’s life?
  •     When do you decide to step back and let others lead?

                 So there they are - questions about leadership from the minds of 18-19 year olds.  Not sure I could have asked better ones myself.  The best part is that these are going to be discussed in front of our freshmen by a group of 8 seniors, our Thrivent Scholars.  Can't wait to hear what they have to say about these.

Friday, November 9, 2012

ways not to get involved

Let's face it - the reason most people end up in a leadership role or position is that they like to fix things.  They see a problem and they want to get at a solution.  They set goals...they make things happen...they get involved.  And yet, as one continues in a leadership role or moves to the next level of leadership, getting involved can get them in trouble.  This past week I got involved in a situation in which I should not have been...and I watched as my own boss even got involved in the same situation in which he should not have been.  The problems with getting involved include:

  • you keep others from living out their own leadership roles
  • you should be spending time on other issues
  • you probably don't have all of the information and might end up making a poor decision
So what are we to do?  How do we fight against our very nature of getting involved to keep from getting involved?  Here are a few tips I have considered this week:
  • stay focused on the big picture - ask whether or not it is important for you to get involved
  • ask people the WHY question rather than the HOW and WHAT questions
  • get out of your office
  • never respond to an email on which you have been copied
  • when you hear people discussing an issue outside your office, and you feel yourself listening too closely, shut your door
  • become adept at asking the question, "what are YOU going to do about that?"
  • remind yourself that you do not know everything (i.e. you are NOT God)
  • be comfortable with the phrase "that's not my issue"
  • rest assured that most issues are being dealt with in the best possible way by the people best situated to dealt with them
Typing the above phrases was not easy for me - I wanted to argue with myself and say, "But what about...?"  The paradox of not getting involved is that great leaders do get involved.  I think the issue is that they have learned WHEN to get involved and HOW to get involved.  I know that at times I have to dig into the details...I have to ask about the HOW and the WHAT...I have to attend to details in the office...I have to inquire about an email on which I was copied...I have to insert myself into hallway conversations...I have to ask "What do you want ME to do about it?...I have to look like I know everything (well, maybe not)...I have to assume someone else's issue...and I have to realize that some issues are being dealt with very poorly by the wrong people.  These instances should be rare - and they should not define my leadership.

So take a quick inventory - what's your ratio from this past week of getting involved/not getting involved?  How are you intentionally letting others lead?  Where are you positioning yourself to make decisions that only you can and should make?  In other are you keeping yourself from getting involved?

Friday, November 2, 2012

recognition and appreciation

At the end of Concordia's Speaker Series yesterday, I was talking with Nathan Green of campus2careers, one of the speakers, about the difference between recognition and appreciation.  He noted that young people (and we all know how relative that term is) are looking more for recognition while older people are looking for appreciation.  The Speaker Series featured three young (30 and under) CEOs - of which Nathan was one - and he realized that while he felt appreciated, the greater joy for him came in the recognition by Concordia that even as a young person he had something to say to the audience.  I have contemplated on that idea for the past 17 hours or so...

  • Recognition is the act that says to someone that you have noticed their work and want to make sure they share what they have learned with others
  • Appreciation is the act that says to someone that you have noticed their work and want them to know that they have made an impact on others' lives
  • Recognition is the act of noticing good work in someone and inviting them to do even more with the gifts and talents they have
  • Appreciation is the act of noticing good work and publicly thanking them for the gifts and talentsd they have
  • Recognition is craved by those who are looking for the next big thing in their lives and careers
  • Appreciation is craved by those who need a breather from all the big things they have done in their lives and careers
  • Recognition is asking someone "what's next?"
  • Appreciation is asking someone "what did you learn?"
  • Recognition is tapping someone on the shoulder for the next responsibility
  • Appreciation is slapping someone on the back as a gesture of thankfulness
  • Recognition is noted through giving more responsibility
  • Appreciation is noted through giving less responsibility
  • Recognition is shown in a bigger paycheck
  • Appreciation shown in a bigger party
As I think of myself (and encourage you to consider yourself), I realize that both recognition and appreciation are important to me.  They are the responses that keep my creative juices flowing...that keep me energized...that result in my joy...and that increase my capacity.  There are certain people in my life that I regularly go to for recognition - and there are others that I regularly go to for appreciation. 

As I leader, I also need to know whom I need to give appreciation to - and to whom I need to give recognition.  My personal philosophy is that if I am going to err on one side or the other, I will give too much recognition and appreciation rather than too little.  Even to those who tell me they do not need it...well, I believe that they do.  And if they don't need it, others need to see that they are getting it from me.

So here are a few shout outs to people in my life who I should be recognizing and appreciating:
  • Recognition to Billy Moyer, Nathan Green and Rusty Shelton who all spoke at our Speaker Series yesterday and motivated my students and colleagues
  • Appreciation to my friend and colleague Ken Schmidt who has been a mentor to me over the past four years
  • Appreciation to my coach Ralph Wagoner who believes in me more than he should
  • Recognition to my colleague Kristi Kirk who keeps amazing me with how she leads her team and continues to push for excellence at Concordia
  • Appreciation to Howard Lacey, Tom Cedel, and Don Adam who together made the case for me to move from Houston to Austin 8 years ago to take this position
  • Recognition to my colleague Carl Trovall who as interim Dean of Arts and Sciences has been a great stabilizing factor for the College and the University
  • Appreciation to Bob May, former Dean of the McCombs School of Business, who took time to meet with me this week and inspired the heck out of me
  • Recognition to those faculty in the College of Business who go above and beyond in their role as teachers, inspiring students day after day after day.
  • Appreciation to my friend and mentor Ron Kessler who continues to inspire me, support me, and believe in me
  • and finally recognition AND appreciation to my administrative Assistant Linda Greenwald who not only holds the College of Business together, but also keeps my life on track and is a Godsend to this place in SO many ways.
So...who are you going to recognize today - and who are you going to appreciate today?

Friday, October 19, 2012

a year ago today...

My wife and I were reflecting this morning on the fact that a year ago today, I was in physical therapy for my broken wrist, sustained during a nasty car accident two months earlier.  She said she still thinks about it, and it has made an impact on her life.  I have often thought back to that accident and the events of what was happening a year ago today, and have considered how it has made be a different - even better - person.  Because of a nasty accident and the events that followed it, today I am:

  • more empathetic - I know what it is like to go through a traumatic accident; what it is like to have the use of only one arm and hand; to be in pain and have to rely on others
  • more easily able to accept help - having to rely on others for transportation, for carrying items, even for dressing me, I can ask for help much easier today
  • more thankful for the little things - the ability to move easily; the importance of really good friends; the understanding of colleagues; the ability to type this blog without thinking about my fingers - life is pretty amazing
  • a better manager of my time - I was pretty much able to keep up with the demands of my role during my time of surgery and recovery.  I had to learn what was really important to get done and who I needed to rely on to get things done.  It almost feels as if I have more time these days
  • more patient - whether it is waiting at stoplights, waiting in line, waiting for a person, or waiting for something to happen, I have learned that patience within myself makes for a much less stressful (and better) life
  • a better driver - after experiencing the results of what happens when someone does something stupid on the road, I have become much more careful and observant while driving.  
So what about you?  What's was happening a year ago today that has impacted you now?  How have you changed in the past year?  Where are you better at what you do - or perhaps where are you worse off? How has your thinking have your behaviors has your attitude have your relationships have your work habits changed?  Perhaps it is time to take a personal inventory and take a look back at a year ago today...and after looking back, pause and reflect on any changes that have taken place..and after pausing and reflecting,.think about how you will move forward from this moment...and after thinking, thank God that you are here now, ready to serve and lead in the kingdom.

Friday, October 12, 2012

it's about the HOW

Conventional wisdom would tell us that leadership is about WHAT gets done and management is about HOW things gets done.  I would like to posit that leadership is as much about the HOW as it is the WHAT.  I have watched people in leadership positions get the WHAT accomplished, but the HOW is so out of whack that people get hurt or the WHAT is not sustainable.  I believe that the HOW provides a basis for the WHAT getting accomplished, and sets a tone for the organization that creates a certain type of culture.

So what does the HOW of leadership include?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • ENTHUSIASM - this is not an over-the-top Pollyanna type of behavior; it is about being emotionally engaged in what one is saying and how one is behaving, especially with a group of people.  Being enthusiastic for your organization and the mission is noticed by those whom you are trying to lead.
  • QUESTIONS - the leader must be asking good questions in order to know what is happening in the organization...and outside the organization.  Being a good question asker (and then a good listener) shows interest and helps the leader to shape the conversation.
  • POSITIVITY - in the midst of everything that might be happening, the leader remains positive.  Different from enthusiasm, the positive leader reminds him/herself and others around them that today's crisis is preparation for tomorrow's opportunity.  Putting the smile on one's face is an important aspect to being recognized as the leader - and helping others get through tough times.
  • MEET - find time to pull people together and talk.  While informal meetings are important, formal meetings help you clarify your thoughts and ideas as well as keep alignment and clarity in place.  Don't be afraid of meetings...and by that I mean PRODUCTIVE meetings.
  • GREET - work the room, no matter where you are.  For many leaders this is very difficult, as it tends to sap their energy.  Get over it - and have your energy sapped.  People want to meet you - and you need to meet people.  Become a the best sense of the term.
  • STORIES - have a handful of stories ready to tell that symbolize the mission and vision of the institution.  Find these stories...practice telling these stories...and then use them whenever possible to get your vision across to others.
  • AUTHENTICITY - be yourself.  If you love to laugh, laugh out loud; if you tend to cry at the drop of a hat, it's okay to cry; if you like to have a good cocktail, invite your friends over for a drink; if you wear your faith on your sleeve, talk about it with others; if you tend to be reserved, its okay to be quiet from time to time.  Whoever you are, however God made you, be that person.
The list could continue - and you might have others to add.  Feel free to do so below.  And next time you are in the process of getting the WHAT done, stop and ask yourself if the HOW of getting it done is aligning with what you believe about leadership and about your organization.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Leadership is hard work.  I realize that is a "no-duh" statement, but I was reminded of it again this week as I ran from place to place...from meal to meal...from room to room...from person to person...from meeting to meeting.  Let me state that I loved every minute of it - and I also realize the importance of being on the go so much.  The hard work of leadership is dealing with people - and you can't be with people if you are not at places, meals, rooms, and meetings.  As you read through the following highlights of my week, consider the following thoughts:

  • did you spend time this past week moving the mission of your institution forward?
  • who did you meet - especially who did you meet for the first time - that will assist you in helping move the mission of your institution forward?
  • what events did you attend in which people got to know you a little better - and therefore got to know your institution a little better?
  • who should you have not spent time with - in other words, who did you spend time with that did NOT help you move the mission of the institution forward?
  • what does your schedule look like for next week/month?
  • who do you need to have coffee/breakfast/lunch with that you believe might help you move the mission of the institution forward?  Have you set up a meeting with that person yet?
So here is a quick recap of my week and the really cool people I met and the really fun things I did...

  • coffee with Rebecca Powers (founder of Impact Austin)
  • leadership coaching session with Marchelle Scarnier of Concordia University Texas
  • Thrivent Scholars meeting with Amber Fogarty of SOS Leadership
  • Lunch with Amber Fogarty and Kristen Cantu of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans
  • Introduction to Business class with Tom Lucas from National Instruments
  • Lunch with Concordia MBA alums Jim Weeks and Charlotte Spencer to discuss alum association
  • discussion on COB vision with Lauren Riemer, CTX grant writer
  • observed Conspirare rehearsal at St. Martin's Lutheran Church with friend Doug Bain of Bain Consulting
  • Breakfast at Headliner's Club with Concordia Foundation members
  • meeting with the College of Business Program Directors
  • Lunch with MBA alumnus Daniel Urrea
  • leadership coaching session with Carrie Leising form Concordia University Texas
  • Dinner with Brad Hewitt (Thrivent CEO), Dick Moeller (Water to Thrive Exec Dir), Kurt Senske (LSSS CEO) and Pete Mueller (Pastor ACTS Church)
  • Thrivent Scholars meeting with Brad Hewitt from Thrivent
  • Thrivent Scholars Alumni meeting with Brad Hewitt from Thrivent
  • Concordia Speaker Series with Brad Hewitt, Dick Moeller, and Kurt Senske
  • provost Council Meeting
  • meeting with Concordia MBA leadership faculty
  • dinner with my good friend Mark Anderson who was in town from Houston
Great week...amazing week...intense week...full week...satisfying week...long week...energizing week... exhausting week.  Leadership is hard work - AND leadership is fulfilling work.  Looking forward to what next week brings. Are you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

high performance teams

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to sit in on a round table discussion of C-suite executives talking about high performance teams.  This round table was facilitated by Texas CEO Magazine, edited by Pat Niekamp and Karin Maake.  Through a serious of fortunate events, I was invited to "listen in" and gain wisdom from a group of people including executives from National Instruments, CacheIQ, HomeAway, The Leadership Refinery and others.  The hour went by incredibly fast as I sipped coffee and furiously took notes.  Here are but a few of the gems I gained from their wisdom and experience:

  • sometimes executives need to make an individual decision rather than involve the team because its faster and better (and good executives know the difference)
  • high performance team members all share a passion for the customer
  • high performance teams know their purpose - in other words, they know what they are to do
  • high performance teams are able to create what one participant called "creative abrasion" - leading to more and better ideas
  • where political agendas outweigh the purpose of the team, there you will find a toxic team
  • high performance teams have a leader who know how to create a high performance team
  • "perfection is demotivating - excellence is highly motivating"
  • task accountability is easy... relationship accountability is hard
  • if Michael Jordan walked into your business, would you know it?  and would you hire him (even if a position did not exist for him)?
I have the honor and privilege of working for what I consider to be a high performing team.  Twice in the last month they have helped me in making decisions that affected the College of Business.  They have listened closely to the issue at hand, they have debated back and forth the sides of the issue, they shared their personal feelings, they considered the mission and vision of the College, they have come up with new ideas, they argued back and forth a bit, and they just plain gave great advice.  Each time we walked away from the meeting feeling better about the team, better about the mission and vision of the College, and better about the decision.  I owe much to Elise, Lynette, Shane and Wayne for their expertise, their guidance, their honesty, and their willingness to engage at such a high level.  

So here's a quick question to consider as you think about the various teams on which you serve: don't ask whether or not you are a high performing team...rather ask do we know what our purpose is and does what happens at our meetings seem to move that purpose forward?  At least that is a start to knowing whether or not you are on a high performing team. 

Finally , Patrick Lencioni's newest book, The Advantage, provides a wonderful picture of what a high performing team should look like.  I recommend it highly and encourage you to buy it today!

Friday, September 14, 2012

tell me a story

There is power in story.  We all know it, and yet we often forget about it.  We become more and more concerned with data...more and more concerned with the bottom line...more and more concerned with reaching our goals...more and more concerned that we meet our numbers - and we forget the power of story.  Early in our lives we asked our parents to tell us another story...we were consumed with reading comics...we listened to Mr. Rogers tell us another story...we even had The Big Book of Bible Stories we pulled off the shelf on a regular basis.  Later on in life, we still find the need to revert to story...we re-read the great novels once again...we wait every week for the next episode of our favorite show...we turn on the radio every Saturday evening and listen to tales from Lake Wobegon...and we still thrill to hearing the Christmas story read from Luke chapter 2 (King James Version, please).  So why have we taken the use of STORY out of our work place?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • it is harder to calculate the ROI (return on investment) from story telling
  • story telling takes time
  • we have forgotten how to listen
  • accrediting institutions ask for quantitative assessment data
  • story telling makes us vulnerable
  • we tell ourselves we need to "get down to business"
  • we have forgotten how to tell stories
  • we spend too much time behind the computer and less time around the water cooler (or coffee pot)
  • we are too busy
  • we are too lazy
  • we are too...
Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to see the power of story in action:
  • young freshmen students telling me about their "coolest" moment in high school
  • reading about how story telling can ease the mind of disturbances (Robert Coles' The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination)
  • listening to Brene Brown give a TED talk about her research on how story telling helps people become more vulnerable 
  • being asked to share one of my stories with a colleague - and having him pray with me afterwards about that story
  • hearing stories from my faculty about how our vision is being lived out in the classrooms
So how can we further encourage story telling among our colleagues, friends and family?  One final list:
  • learn to ask questions that elicit stories from others (open ended, genuinely curious, asking people to tell you more, etc)
  • begin each meeting with a story time - connect it to the mission and vision of your organization
  • read more more good the books your were required to read in high school and young adult graphic novels
  • remind yourself to tell one story every day - don't force yourself on people, but see if you can find a willing ear to hear your story
  • get out from behind your desk and walk around, stopping in people's offices and ask them what's happening in their lives - then be quiet and listen
  • give yourself permission to put your feet up on your desk and enjoy the moment of listening to someone else's story
  • eat dinner with your spouse and family at the table rather than in front of the TV
  • believe that STORY has power - really believe it - and let others know you believe it
  • turn on your public radio station this coming Saturday afternoon and listen to Garrison Keillor tell stories from Lake Wobegon
Stories inspire...stories stoke the imagination...stories teach...stories heal...stories help people and organizations align...stories make people laugh...stories make people cry...stories increase faith...stories lift the spirit...stories are what make us human.  SO...what's your story?

Friday, August 31, 2012

advice about getting advice

This past week I faced a decision that was none too easy for me - lots of variables and the situation seemed to only provide a lose-lose solution.  At least that's how I felt until I started getting advice from various people with whom I work.  Suddenly, I felt better about the decision making process, I had more options before me, and it soon became very clear what the decision should be.  I am forever grateful to those people who took the time to listen and give wise counsel and advice over this situation.  I was again reminded that it is important to seek advice from people when facing tough decisions - a no-duh in my book, but still good to be reminded.

So here are a few thoughts on (my personal advice) on asking for and getting advice:

  • be ready and willing to receive advice - don't ask for advice if your mind is already made up; be open to what people have to say and listen closely
  • ask the question, then shut up - seeking advice is not explaining why you are doing what you are doing - its listening to what others think about the issue and your role in the issue.  Learn to be quiet for a while and just listen
  • listen for the things that are not being said - in other words, ideas arise beyond what others are saying.  As one of my "advice givers" was talking with me the other day, I suddenly had the AHA moment when it all became clear, yet he had not said anything directly that led me to that decision
  • ask clarifying questions - the "why is that important" question and the "what do you mean by that" question are both critical to a deeper understanding of what the other person is saying to you
  • be clear about what type of advice you are seeking - this is important for yourself as well as the person who is giving the advice.  The paradox here is that you want to have a very clear question that is open ended for the responder to have space in which to think out loud
  • seek advice from a variety of people - don't just go to the most obvious people, or your good friends; seek advice from people whom you believe will be honest and yet caring for you and your situation.  I have to give kudos to my team who responded so beautifully and thoughtfully to my situation and made it so much more clearer to me
  • go find the person whom you may be least likely to take advice from - this is the hard one, because we do not naturally want to take advice from people like this.  I was blessed to have this person walk into my office on the day I most needed advice, and I took the risk to share my situation with him...and I am so glad I did
  • follow up with those who gave you the advice - let them know that you have made a decision and how their words helped in the process.  I have a few more people to visit on this score, but am looking forward to telling them how they were a big part of my decision making process
People in leadership positions often get there by giving advice...but once in that position, they only move forward (and move their organizations forward) by getting advice.  Be an advice getter - and it will be much easier to then be an advice giver.

Friday, August 24, 2012

the art of focus

Of all words people might use to describe me, the term "focused" would probably not be found among the top ten.  Whether it is my strengths of "learner" or "input" (or maybe even my WOO), my mind (and my energies) will often move from one idea to the next.  I have a note on my desk that is a constant reminder to "sleep on that idea."  For me, there are so many things to get many cool ideas to put into many opportunities awaiting me, I find it hard to focus.  And yet, I know the importance - and the power - of focus.

Lord knows I have tried to focus from time to time.  Whether it be following the concepts laid forth in a "how to organize your life" book (I really try to not watch email all day long); whether it be keeping track of how I spend my time during any given day (that was depressing); whether it be trying to keep a clean and clutter-free desk (I am getting better at that); or whether it be scheduling large blocks of time on my calendar to work on a specific project (it seems that people still tend to want to talk to me during those times)...all of these items can and should be done.  I think I have come to the conclusion that FOCUS may not be a science at all, but an art - something that one does because of who they are and how they think rather that what they do.  Let me explain...

The concept of FLOW (made popular by the research done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) seems to me to be more of how one sees the world - the concept of doing what one loves and doing it in a manner that creates FLOW is a gift that an individual can bring about, a gift both to themselves and to the world.  When I am in the state of FLOW, not only am I doing good work but those around me are more capable of doing good work.  And like great art or music, so it is with FLOW- very difficult to describe but you know it when you see it.  We are drawn to focused people...we like being around focused people...we like ourselves when we are focused...and at the end of a day in which we have experienced being focused, we feel as if we have accomplished a great bit.  What does focus look and feel like?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • there is a heightened sense of awareness
  • there is a sense of completion
  • time seems to move at just the right pace
  • distractions seem to be minimized (thought in reality they may not be)
  • a sense of joy and peace surrounds you
  • stuff gets done
  • you are less angry at the world
  • you suddenly have more time for people
  • you see yourself as being able to take on any task that might come your way
  • there is both an exhilaration and an exhaustion - both of which create energy
So how does one get to this place?  How might one find themselves more often in a state of focus?  It takes time and takes knowing about certain skills that assist toward this takes using the tools that are around you to help create takes finding what you do well and using those talents in your day-to-day takes surrounding yourself with competent people who agree on takes you being incredibly competent in what you takes a certain amount of confidence that you can do this job - and do it takes an understanding of what is really important in your role, and what can be left to be done at a later date (or by other people) takes understanding who you are and what strengths you bring to the takes the ability to say NO to that which gets in the way of takes forgiving yourself when life throws you a curve ball...and it takes time to where being focused can move from the conscious incompetence to the unconscious competence.  And that's when focus becomes an art!

Friday, August 17, 2012 room at a time

This coming Tuesday, August 21, I will be presenting at Seton Cove, an organization that describes its mission as providing a welcoming place of solace and hospitality where people of any faith may nourish and foster their spiritual growth and journey towards wholeness.  When I was invited to be a part of their program for this fall, I was asked what I would like to speak on.  I am not sure whether it was because I was teaching on the topic at the time...or I had just left another miserable meeting, but I asked if I could address how to make meetings more meaningful - and through the process help people become more whole.  So I chose as my topic: Changing the World One Room at a Time: Designing Meeting that Make an Impact (shameless commercial here: there are still seats available...register here).

Please understand that there are many factors that go into making a good meeting run well, including an agenda sent early, arriving on time, having a well ventilated room, being sure to make action lists, and following up with good minutes.  While those are all wonderful "things to do" for having good meetings, there is also the "unwritten" rules that help to make the meeting meaningful and ripe for changing people's lives and the worlds in which they live.  Not wanting to spoil the essence of what I will be saying this coming Tuesday, here are but a few thoughts on this topic:

  • as the convener, have you considered the WHY of the meeting, and what you believe should be the one big thing that will arise from the ensuing conversation?
  • as the convener, have you thought about the room set-up, and taken the time to design the space for the bests possible interaction?
  • as the convener, are you entering the room really believing that everyone there is bringing their unique gift into the conversation? 
  • as a participant, are you entering the room emotionally ready to engage in deep conversation?
  • as a participant, are you ready and willing to share your unique gift with the group?
  • as a participant, have you considered what the un-named elephant in the room might be and carefully thought through how it might be named?
  • as convener or participant, are you willing to lay aside your own assumptions to truly listen to what others will be saying?
This short list is but a beginning of thoughts and ideas that, if considered prior to meetings, really can change the world:
  • when participants understand the WHY of the meeting, better solutions can be reached
  • when participants can interact at a deep level, they feel that their voice is important and will speak from their hearts and souls
  • when participants are allowed to use their gifts, they flourish in other aspects of their lives
  • when participants prepare themselves ahead of time (both emotionally and spiritually) they are more able to embrace the "other" in the room
  • when participants have considered the bumps that may lay ahead, and thought about how to speak toward them, people are treated in a more kind manner
  • when assumptions can be laid aside, listening takes place at a higher level and better solutions can be reached
Perhaps what I am most excited about in this session is that I get to speak to people's inner lives.  We all have to attend meetings, and for so many of them we leave feeling drained and frustrated.  I believe there is a better way...I believe that meetings should uplift and restore...I  believe that meetings are holy ground and should be treated as such...I believe that committees and teams, when functioning properly, deeply affect people's lives...and I believe that meetings can change the world - one room at a time.

For further reading on this topic, I invite you to explore the following resources:
  • Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach & Smith
  • Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Community by Margaret Wheatley
  • The World Cafe: Shaping our Futures Through Conversations that Matter by Juanita Brown
  • Don't Just Do Something, Stand There: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter by Weisbord & Janoff

Friday, July 27, 2012

a week in the life...

Crazy week of meeting with really cool people...I spent time with Concordia's newest Dean of Science and Math, Dr. Janet Whitson, talking about the importance of external relations and how to balance that with all of the internal demands this job puts on us.  I was able to demonstrate for her what I meant by that the next few days as I:

- met with COB alumnus Nick Cmerek who recently became a CPA and is working for a small firm in Austin
- met with COB Advisory Board member Amar Ramakrishnan who recently took a new position with a start up and is expecting his second child soon - put me on to the book This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking and Learning (a must read).  Follow Amar on Twitter @staysmall
- met with Dr. Kathryn Davis from Huston-Tillotson Business School and Concordia MBA student JC Otero about creating a data base for mentoring.  Great discussion and great new colleague
- met with COB alumnus Robby King who is working for Big Commerce and is doing incredibly well - loves his job!  find out more at
- met with a group of ECHO membersat the offices of I & O Communications (with CEO Elyse Yates - to brainstorm marketing and PR plans for ending homelessness in Austin.  Find out more about this great organization at
- met with Doug Bain of Bain Consulting (a new acquaintance that was facilitated by COB Advisory Board member Debbie Leverett).  Doug is a brilliant thinker and also serves on the Board for Conspiare.  Follow Doug @BainConsulting
- ended the week yesterday by meeting with the new Manager of Community Engagement for the Texas RFO of Thrivent Financial - Scott Armey.  While at that event, ran into Kurt Senske (Lutheran Social Services), Nicole Griesse (COB Alum who works at Lutheran Social Services), Dick Moeller (Water to Thrive), Chad Thompson (Thrivent), Kristen Cantu (Thrivent), and Dan Zieschang (Lutheran Social Services).

On top of all these exciting and great meetings during the week, I think I also got everything else done that was required internally.  What really excites me is to see what will happen in the future as a result of my external relations during this past week.  Just a glimpse into my life and the REALLY COOL PEOPLE I get to meet all the time.  Are you taking the time to meet new and exciting people each week?

Friday, July 20, 2012

revolutionary leadership

Two of the books I read over my vacation and Summer Reading Feast included biographies (LARGE biographies!) of Che Guevara and Malcolm X.  Since both of these men were assassinated prior to my 10th birthday, I missed all of the action and rhetoric that took place during their lifetimes - and for the most part was shielded from them and their accomplishments growing up (remember the days when communism = evil?).  I told someone this past week that I would have had the grand triumvirate if I had read the biography of Mao as well.  What struck me about both Che and Malcolm X is that they were considered revolutionaries...the same word that was used for the founding fathers of the United States of America.  And yet, my history books would never have put John Adams and George Washington in the same sentence as Che Guevara and Malcolm X.

Politics aside, I was struck by the way revolutionary leaders mobilize people and make things happen.  What would it mean for you and me to be a revolutionary leader?  Here are a few principles I gained about leadership - revolutionary leadership - as I read these biographies:

  • revolutionary leaders are committed to a cause.  They see the need for change and work to make it happen.  Che was willing to join Fidel Castro in in the fight for liberation of Cuba - but his vision went much farther than one country.  He worked in both Africa and Bolivia to bring about change.
  • revolutionary leaders act from an inner sense of mission.  Both Che and  Malcolm did a lot of soul searching to understand what was important to them and WHY they were doing what they did.  Whether it was a long motorcycle journey or time spent in prison, they did the necessary INNER WORK to prepare them for their callings.
  • revolutionary leaders are articulate.  Malcolm X was a great speaker, and was able to articulate his message in a away that drew others to the cause.  Taking the time to craft the right message, and then learning to deliver it in a powerful manner are both an important part of using the voice as a tool of influence.
  • revolutionary leaders mobilize others.  A revolution does not happen if it only involves a few people.  Bringing others on board, organizing them, and deploying them into action were all techniques that allowed both Che and Malcolm to accomplish what they set out to do.  These leaders thought and acted strategically, engaging others in the process.
  • revolutionary leaders never worry about time spent on the cause.  Both Che and Malcolm suffered physically because of the time they spent doing their work.  There are no 8 hour work days for this type of leader - whether it is writing, speaking, organizing, traveling, or meeting with others, they use as many hours of the day they can to accomplish their mission.
  • revolutionary leaders are seen as a threat by others.  The mere word "revolutionary" strikes fear into most people's hearts, because it means deep change.  When leaders articulate a vision that challenges the status quo, others begin to see them as a threat and actively work to stop them.  Both Che and Malcolm X had multiple enemies (often from within their own organizations) and were fearful for their lives much of the time.
  • revolutionary leaders are willing to put their lives on the line for a cause.  It might have been easy for either Che or Malcolm to go into hiding once they knew they were being hunted, and yet they both moved forward in their causes to the point of an early and tragic death.  While one's mission may not lead them to this point, given other circumstances how many leaders would be willing to press forward knowing their actions might cause their death?
Whether one believes that Che Guevara or Malcolm X are truly great leaders or not, it is hard to deny that they exemplified the aspects of what leaders do best - they had a vision they believed in; they articulated that vision among others; they drew people to a common cause; they acted in a manner to bring that vision about; and they were not afraid to make things happen even when times got tough.  What cause would it take for you - or me - to become a revolutionary leader?  And where throughout the world today do we need more revolutionary leaders to enact positive change?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Reading Feast

I just returned from a month in Maine, and am ready to report on what I like to refer to as my Summer Reading Feast...28 days of good food, good movies, and good books.  Prior ot my trip, someone asked me if I did any "professional" reading on vacation or whether it was just for pleasure.  My reply to them sounded something like this: "I am always reading for pleasure - and I am always reading professionally.  Since I read with my leadership lenses on, it is professional; and since I love to read so much, it is pleasureable."  My Summer Reading Feast is often both a series of planned books (I put aside books all year long to take with me to Maine) as well as serendipitous (we have access to a great bookstore and my favorite public library in the world...not to mention Amazon).  While I don't plan any themes, several often emerge.  What follows is a quick overview of my Summer Reading Feast (with more to follow in weeks to come):

Fiction: I am a HUGE fan of fiction in that it helps me understand the "other" in my relationships with people.  I have also come to realize that great fiction is often wasted on the young, so I try to re-read many of the great novels I read (or didn't read) in high school and college during this Summer Reading Feast:
  • The Financier - Theodore Dreiser
  • The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Sodom and Gommorah - Marcel Proust (vol. 4 of Remembrance of Things Past)
  • The Odyssey - Homer (trans. Fagles)
  • To Have and Have Not - Ernest Hemingway
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  • Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout (a collection of stories about life in Maine)
  • State of Wonder  - Ann Patchet
Non-Fiction: During the Summer Reading Feast, I get to spend about 8 hours a day reading, so it is time to tackle the "big books" that are sitting on my shelf all year long (sometimes longer):
  • Che - Jon Lee Anderson
  • Macolm X - Manning Marable (one of my favorite books of the summer)
  • The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris - John Baxter
  • A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway (okay, some fiction, some non-fiction)
  • Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Second Half of Life - Richard Rohr
  • A Kierkegaard Anthology - ed. by Robert Bretall
Graphic Novels: The Blue Hill LIbrary has a wonderful collection of graphic novels, so I decided to expand my repertiore in this area:
  • My Friend Dahmer - Derf Beckderf
  • Black Hole - Charles Burns
  • Are You My Mother? - Alison Bechdel
  • The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
  • Maus I - Art Spiegelman
  • A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
I will expand some thoughts on these books in future blogs, noting the leadership lessons learned while reading them.  I hope everyone gets a chance to have some type of Summer Reading Feast, using the time for professional and pleasurable reading.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I have written often about the power of questions and how they might be used in leadership roles.  Yesterday I had the privilege of addressing the Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association, a wonderful group of people whose life calling is to teach.  They don't necessarily teach in the traditional sense, but they do so through their speaking, their writing, their coaching and their consulting.  Got to hang out with really cool people like Patti DeNucci (check out her new book The Intentional Networker), Teri Hill (an outstanding coach and presenter), and Annie Barron Wilson (whose book Openness Works is available for free on her website). 

Today's blog features two items from my talk - a quote and a list.  First the quote, which is taken from the book Learning as a Way of Leading written by Stephen Preskill and Stephen Brookfield (a book which has quickly become one of my top 10 leadership reads).  This quote is taken from the chapter entitled "Learning to Question."

Learning how to question is one of the foundational skills of leadership.  Without it there is no inquiry, no learning, no movement forward and no readiness to take stock of where we have come as a guide for where we might go.  Leaders who learn must be highly proficient at questioning, skillful at modeling it on themselves as well as others, and always ready to support it in colleagues and collaborators.  Their goal is to make questioning a communitywide practice.  The word "questioning" is derived from the word "quest."  When we pose questions we initiate a quest, a journey into the unknown or the poorly understood.  Through questions we search out the unknown or the unfamiliar, but we also reexamine the familiar.  Sharp, incisive, focused questioning has a way of pushing people forward to uncover more.  So questioning is part of the quest to live more fully and adventurously (p.127).

Second, here is the reading list I prepared for the group.  There are so many more I should have added, but wanted to keep it to a half-page.  Several of these books have been game changers for me - powerful testaments to how to approach life, and especially how to approach leading.  Enjoy the list...

Learning as a Way of Leading by Stephen Preskill and Stephen Brookfield
Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization by Peter Drucker
The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block
What? By Mark Kurlansky
Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley
Leadership Can Be Taught by Sharon Daloz Parks
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter by Juanita Brown
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There: 10 Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter by Marvin
Weisboard and Sandra Janoff
Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by William Issacs
Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms by Preskill and Brookfield

Friday, May 25, 2012

why are we here?

This past Tuesday evening, I walked into The Concordia MBA class in San Antonio and was greeted by smiling faces and excited students (OK, I know that sounds like a plug, but bear with me on this).  The professor (not me) began the class with the question, "Why are we here?" and the class responded, "To make a difference!"  I was so was such a natural response for them (they actually begin every class with this opening) and very heartfelt.  I followed it up with "What does that mean for each of you?" and the conversation flowed from there. 

I have shared that story many times over the past few days, and the reaction is always the same..."That's very cool!"  I agree - I think there is such a strong "coolness" factor in beginning the class that way because it reminds our students of the purpose of why we do what we do.  The Concordia MBA was designed for students who want to make an impact...who want to lead successful and meaningful lives...who want to make a difference.  This seemingly simple exercise (some may even call it corny) sets the tone for the entire class session (and entire program) that reminds both teacher and student that the learning that is going to take place has a larger purpose than a grade or a diploma - the learning is happening so that the world can be a better place.

So when have you recently asked yourself or your colleagues the questions of why you or they are here (wherever that "here" might be)?  And of course the followup question needs to be "and why have I/we responded the way I/we did?"  Digging into the WHY of what we do is incredibly important, becasue it gives meaning to the WHAT of our daily lives.  Simon Sinek's book Start with Why is an incredible read as it helps the reader get a better grasp of the importance of asking the WHY question as well as tools to help move the process forward (thanks to Concordia alumnus Austin Smith for reminsing me of this book yesterday).  Similar to the post of several weeks ago of getting everyone to understand and work from the same theory, getting people to operate from the same WHY may be even more important.  The WHY behind the WHAT provides energy and excitement into our daily lives.

I recently have had the chance to consider the WHY behind what I do on a daily basis, and I came to the understanding that my role is to create an environment in which Concordia faculty, students, and community partners can come together to learn and put into practice ideas that create better organizations.  Whether that happens in a classroom, or in a work environment, or through promoting the annual Ethics in Business Awards which supports The Samaritan Center in Austin, or simply having a dialogue with a friend, at the end of the day I believe that better organizations create a better community...better communities provide a place where people are more free to live an abundant life...and ini living that abundant life the Kingdom of God is made manifest througout that community.  I like that WHY...and I'll think of that as I continue my work today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

when it needs to be your agenda

Normally, I am not a big fan of talking a lot at meetings that I run.  I believe that a well run meeting is one in which the person who convenes the meeting asks good questions and engages the participants in dialogue and discussion around the topic at hand, hopefully coming to some type of conclusion or decision.

I sat in a meeting yesterday in which the convener of the meeting started talking and went on for about 15 minutes.  At first I became a bit irritated, and then realized that this was an important part of the meeting, in which this person needed to tell us about an exciting event in their life.  As I settled into listening, it became very clear to me that without the leader sharing their story, we could not have settled into the rest of the meeting, so I calmed myself down and enjoyed the story.  Eventually we got back to the agenda and had a very good meeting.  It was at that point that the title of today's blog came to me.

I believe there are times when it needs to be "my agenda."  As I considered this title, I started thinking about other times when the convener/facilitator/leader needs to own the agenda and just talk.  Here is my list as I think about it today:
  • when an important event has occured in one's life...after a long vacation (like a month in Maine), a wonderful concert, a great student event, the birth of a child, a recent wedding or funeral, it might be importnat for you to share your reflections.  First, you need to share your personal excitement so you can focus your energies on the meeting; and second, the people around the table will know a little bit more about you
  • when a value has been's often the elephant in the room about which no one wants to talk.  As the person in charge (and the person charged with creating and upholding the values) it might be time to talk about why the value is in place, how it has been violated, share stories about the power of that value, and begin to hold people accountable to living that value out.  10-15 minutes may not be too long to speak to this point
  • when laying out a vision...whether it is at the beginning of the process where you might be thinking out loud or toward the end of the process where the vision has crystalized, this is a time for the convener to hold the floor for awhile and let people listen. Hhaving your ideas become words is a critical piece in making the vision a reality, and needing to say it over and over in different ways is important at this stage
  • when confessing your faults...whether it is a slip in judgement or a mistake made or something of a grievious nature, this is a time when you speak and allow yourself to let people know that you know you have messed up.  This probably is not a 15 minute monologue, but it takes time for you to be vulnerable and show your willingness to say "I'm sorry."  Be sure to pause at the end and allow those around the table to pronounce forgiveness
  • when critical issues those moments when everything seems to be falling apart, the leader needs to stand up and speak to the team, sometimes without questions being asked.  The more sensitive the issue, the more important it is that you have thought out what you will say and how you will say it.  Sometimes there will be no dialogue due to the personal nature of the issue at hand; at other times, there will be a place for questions and others' best thinking.  Careful explanation with as many details as can be shared are important for the group to hear
The facilitator of the meeting needs to know when these times are going to occur and share that with the group.  Simple phrases such as:
     - I need you all to give me a few minutes to speak to you directly
     - the next few minutes are my time to talk
     - an important event has come up that will take some time for me to explain to all of you
     - I normally don't like to talk for a long time, but the next few minutes are mine to do that
     - I need for all of you indulge me for the next ten minutes while I tell you about...
     - I need you all to listen closely for the next 10 minutes and be ready to ask questions and give me feedback when I am done

My learning for the week is that there are times I need to own the agenda - and that there are times others need to own the agenda.  I think there is a proper way to do that, and I also think that it should not be done too often.  What do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2012

operating from the same page

This past week I was conversing with a colleague from our Development Department, Carrie Leising, and we began to talk about the theories one uses to lead.  She asked if theories are valuable (or something to that effect) and that led to the "aha" moment for us that all of our actions are driven by some type of theory - whether it is an informed theory, another's theory, or an uninformed theory.  That the led to a dialogue on the importance of those who work with and for you needing to be operating from the same theory (i.e. working from the same page).  We often hear that leaders should surround themselves with people who think differently so that more creative ideas can arise and good questions can be asked.  That being said, I am a believer that while a leadership team can - and should - be composed of people who see the world through different lenses, all members should be operating from the same theory.
One of my roles as Dean is to ensure that the faculty is operating from the same theory of teaching and learning.  This is a group that is very diverse and comes from a variety of backgrounds.  We have all decided that is an incredible blessing for our students as they encounter different ways of teaching and different personalities.  Yet, it is critical that all of us approach the classroom from the same theory of learning and teaching so that our vision and operational plan can come to fruition and be lived out in a consistent manner.  While not wanting to make this a blog on teaching and learning, some of the basic tenents of this theory is that all students can learn if they choose to engage; learning is more important than teaching; students need to learn and practice in order to master content ands skills; and that true assessment will lead to better teaching and better learning.
So how can I - and others - ensure that the team is operating from the same theory?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • be explicit - state the ideas and theory early and often.  Put it into words the team can understand
  • be patient - sometimes the operating theory takes time to emerge.  Think about it outloud with others and find the words that best fit for your group
  • be informed - read about the ideas and thoeries that excite you.  Find out what others have said and written so that you can speak to your theory as one that is informed
  • be passionate - this is important stuff.  Don't let others intimidate you with their nay-saying of theories.  Remember that there is no practical operation without a  theory
  • be repetitive - state the theory over and over and over.  Just when you think your team is understanding it, remember that you have only begun
  • assess it - check to see if your theory is working.  Assess it against best practices, other institutions, and data you can gather and analyze
  • be adaptable - sometimes theories don't work.  Be willing to look at other theories and consider what they have to offer - and be willing to get rid of a theory that is not working for you or the team
  • be adamant - if others on the team refuse to engage with your theory, find out why.  If they still refuse to participate, it may be time to let them find another team
SO...what theory are you using to lead?  Can you state it?  Where does it come from?  Why is it important to you?  How does it help improve the bottom line of your organization?  And how is it beneficial to those you lead?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reading about...

What are you reading about today?  What have you been reading about over the past several months?  I remember someone saying that if you read a book a week on a particular subject, that would come out to 52 books during a one-year period.  Assume several weeks off and some books taking more than one week, and let's average it out to 40 books during the year.  Now assume you commit to doing that over a 5-year stretch.  You will have read 200 books on a particular subject, making you a knowledge expert in that field.  Imagine what you would learn - and be able to do with that knowledge.

I have committed this year to reading on philanthropy and development work.  I decided last December that this was an area in which I needed to learn more and have more skills and tools to use as I ask people to invest in the good of this region through their gifts to Concordia University Texas (as well as my work with LINC-Houston).  Over a four month period, I have read eleven books covering a broad range of topics.  I spend approximately 30 minutes every morning reading on this topic and have moved my learning forward at a fast pace.  There are many times I read the same thing said in a new way by a different author, realizing that some of the material is beginning to sink into my subconcious.  I have even begun dreaming about philanthropy and development, and look forward to my meetings with friends and future friends of the University.  Asking for support and people's investments has become one of my passions...much of that due to a consistent reading diet in this field.

A few learnings from my readings:
  • people will give when they are asked...but they need to be asked
  • ask people to invest in a cause that makes a difference...not in an institution and its needs
  • development work is not that hard...but it does take hard work to make it happen
  • development work is about them and people will give
  • don't be afraid to ask for a large gift...people will often surprise you with what they are able to consider
  • managing a development team is about learning to use people's gifts and talents...find lots of people to partner with to develop more and deeper relationships
  • when asking for gifts from others, be sure you have made yours first...and your own gift should hurt a little bit
My top reads to this point?
I know I have to "get on the ball" if I am going to make 40 books this year...for me, the learning keeps happening and I look forward to what is next.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

leadership and language (email tips for leaders)

We all know it is important to craft a message that is powerful and engaging. We all know the importance of using the right words to touch someone's heart and mind. Examples abound, especially as we consider the words of those who changed the nation - notably people like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. But what about the mundane, day-to-day, information only messages? And especially in a day of email, when communication happens almost instantaneously? Can we still lead through our language?
I beleive that the answer is YES. As leaders, everytime we communicate we are engaged in the process of leading. Yesterday I was sending out a "routine" email that was communicating a decision that had been made. I was blessed to have next to me one of my colleagues who helped me craft just the right words. We believed that what was written in this short message could have impact over the long haul, and we wanted to say just the right thing. So here are a few tips for crafting a good email message that can enhance your ability to lead over the long haul:

  1. First and foremost, NEVER (repeat NEVER) write or send an email when you have negative emotion wrapped around the subject. This is especially true if you are angry toward someone or something.

  2. Second and foremost, NEVER (repeat NEVR) write or send an email when you have negative emotion wrapped around the subject. This is especially true if you are angry toward someone or something...get the point?

  3. Assume that people will always read between the lines, so avoid any language or tone that might allow peopel to do that. Be factual and to the point.

  4. Explain yourself. Let the reader know why the decision has been made or what is prompting you to write this email. Don't let them guess.

  5. Be succinct...but not too much so. Write in full sentences, and consider that it probably takes a paragraph or two to speak of anything worthwhile.

  6. Have an approriate salutation - to whom are you adressing this note, and how do they want to be noted by you? Do you begin with Dear Friends...Trusted Colleagues...Fellow Faculty...or do you address people by name?

  7. Have an approriate ending - do you have a tag line you normally use (regards, truly, as always, God's blessings) or perhaps several that not only address the issue at hand but also speak of your relationship with that person or group?

  8. Choose your words in such a way that they have impact. Consider this a speech that is written out. Let your language inspire others to action.

  9. Depending on who the email is being sent to, re-read over and over. Nothing is worse than a spelling mistake, or a dropped word, or poor grammar (this is no big deal between friends, but any public email needs to be your best writing). Don't distract the reader with poor grammar and spelling.

  10. Be VERY judicious with using REPLY ALL...this gets people in trouble way too many times.

  11. Let the email address be the last thing you type in, just in case you get sloppy and hit the send button before you want to or before you have a chance to proofread. You may just want to write the note in Word and then copy and paste into the email.

  12. Finally, NEVER (repeat NEVER) write or send an email when you have negative emotions wrapped around the subject. This is especially true if you are angry toward someone or something.

That's it for now...enjoy using email. It is one of the great tools we have at our disposal in which we can lead in real time and across boundaries. AND remember to visit with people face to face, especially when you have negative emotions wrapped around the subject or if you are angry toward someone or something.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

my bad

Hard to believe I last posted a blog back in November. Not sure if it has been an issue of time or not quite knowing what to say. I always have an opinion on leadership, so not quite sure what is keeping me from posting here on a more regular basis.

I so appreciate people's comments on what I have written in the past...part of leadership (at least for me) is getting feedback on what I do and say. While I always appreciated uninvited feedback (at least ost of the time), sometimes I find myself having to seek feedback. Here are a few ways I go about that process:

  • I have found that if I only ask "what did you think?" I get the standard "that was good" or some other cursory response. I need to be specific, or ask one more time, "No, really...what did you think?"

  • When people mention something about my leadership, or compliment me on an action I have taken, I ask them to elaborate some more and tell me WHY it was good for them. This helps me to more fully understand what they saw and experienced.

  • Because people normally have a hard time devlivering bad news, I have to begin by giving them permission to tell me the bad and the ugly. It might sound something like, "I'm not sure that meeting went very well...can you tell me where I might have done something that did not work?"

  • With trusted friends and advisors, I may tell them ahead of time to watch closely and give me feedback following a meeting or event. Then I make sure to follow up with them.

  • When people bring up a topic with which I find myself wondering if my actions in that arena are less than admirable, I let them know that they have permission to call me out if I ever act in that manner. Yesterday I was conversing with a colleague and she brought up the issue of giving introverted people space in which they may network differently than extroverted people. I realized that my actions will often promote those who are extroverted and inhibit those who are introverted. I told her she can call me out - even in public - if she ever sees me acting in such a manner.

So how are you getting feedback on your leadership? Without some type of feedback, there are few ways to really improve. And the best feedback is real time are you getting that on a regular basis?